“Happy International Women’s Day to the women in your life and your membership! I’m not sure how 2 dudes did it but you built a community where strong women are celebrated and, dare we say, even encouraged to be stronger.  I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be a firefighter now without my time at Empower.”

You can bet that receiving the above message was very moving for Leon and I, the two dudes referenced.  So, how did two dudes build a community that celebrates strong women?

For this dude it was only natural as strong women played a foundational role in my upbringing.  My Mother, my maternal grandmother and my aunts were huge influences on me.  My Father provided a strong male role model and everything else is attributable to those four women. 

But, my aunt Rita, my Mother’s eldest sister, perhaps deserves the greatest credit for Empower’s celebration of strong women.  From the earliest age I recall Rita’s fascinating lessons on ancient civilizations that gave rise to my passion for Anthropology and Archaeology, my university major.  Like her, I went through the education program and started my career in the public education system.  But most relevant to you, is the fascination with fitness that she instilled in me from a young age.

After leaving teaching, Rita took her science skills to work in the labs at Children’s Hospital in Toronto.  And yes, young as I was, I remember the tour she gave me of her labs.  But from there she went to work for the Canadian Armed Forces conducting physiological testing on Canada’s elite soldiers.  She told me all about the fascinating tests she performed. 

Rita loved fitness.  In those early days she taught swimming lessons.  Yes, I attended those, though I was so young I barely remember them.  She bought me my first tennis racket and when she visited we would rise early while the rest of the household slept and we’d go to the tennis courts.  It was always fun.  It never seemed to matter to her that I was never very coordinated.

In her 40’s she took up running and ran marathons right into her 70’s.  She became a fitness instructor teaching aerobics classes and getting her personal training certification.  When I was 15 she took me to her local Toronto gym, Joe’s Gym.  I was not old enough to be covered by their liability insurance but the owner, Joe, said that as long as I was with my aunt, I was welcome.  She taught me all about how to use all the machines, she taught me muscle groups and basic anatomy.  She let me read all her Muscle & Fitness magazines and took me to watch my first bodybuilding competition.  From that early exposure began my lifelong gym habit.  When I decided to test for my personal training certification she bought me my first ACE personal training textbook.

After the military Rita worked as a head programmer for Toronto Dominion Bank.  If you have ever used one of their ATMs, well, that was her.  She was one of the original programmers and managers for that system.  This was her full time job but she always made time for training and competition.  She also took extra roles in commercials and TV shows like Kids in the Hall in her spare time as well as some community theatre.  And she travelled a lot.  So on top of being a doting aunt, she led a fun, action packed life which only got busier when she retired.  A typical day for her might include her daily morning run, breakfast, some weight lifting at the gym, lunch, a swim, dance classes and then meeting up with friends for dinner.

So what did I learn from Rita?  Not just that women are strong but that getting older does not mean you need to stop playing!  Fitness and an active lifestyle are available to everyone no matter how busy they think they are.  I learned that being fit and healthy gives you more energy to enjoy life.  Being fit doesn’t just add years to your life, it adds quality to those years.  Empower is all about the lessons I learned from Rita’s example of how to live a great life!

And even while she was busy enjoying life, she was also supporting her family.  Financially she helped support my grandmother and her two younger sisters and even my brother and I.  Though she never seemed to want for anything, she was generous to a fault.  There were many times as a university student on my own here in Vancouver that I would have gone hungry if it weren’t for an unexpected and unasked for cheque arriving in the mail.  Empower might not have survived those early years on Dunbar Street either if those unexpected cheques had not continued to surprise us.  Many times Sunghee and I would be facing the possibility of failing to make rent when suddenly a cheque would arrive that would solve our rent problems for the next several months.  Empower’s survival owes much to Rita’s generosity.

So, though you have not met my aunt, the culture you enjoy at Empower and even our existence is owed in large part to her.  And the answer to how two dudes built a community that celebrates strong women may possibly be summed up in one word: Rita.

Thursday July 14th 2022, Sunghee and I loaded up the Jeep ready to head out to the athlete registration in Port Coquitlam for the 2022 CanWest Games.  As we rushed out the door, my Mother came out and told me that my Aunt Rita had been put on a feeding tube and that her end was imminent.  As an athlete, you always hope for a distraction-free competition.  As a coach, you always want to bring your best energy forward for your team.  Sunghee and I put all our energy that weekend into focussing on the things we could control in the moment: our performances on the field and the energy we brought to our team. 

Fit as she was, Rita’s end was inevitable but not imminent.  She survived on feeding tubes until this past weekend, powerful heart and lungs labouring on long after her consciousness had left us.  On Saturday we received word that she was fast fading.  We took turns keeping our other aunt company on the phone all weekend as she sat at Rita’s bedside.  We broke the news to my Mother.  And on Sunday March 12th at approximately 5:30pm EST, my aunt Rita, whose influence on my life has been more profound perhaps than any other person, finally passed away.

This week I did my best to bring great energy to my group classes and personal training sessions in her memory.  I am so blessed to be living a life I love living my passion day-to-day thanks to her great example.  It was not until writing this blog post that I finally broke down and cried all the tears that have been building up since we first received that news last July.

I so wish you could have met this remarkable, inspirational woman but maybe, through my coaching, she carries on, so perhaps you have.  On the days when I am at my best, that is Rita’s gift to the world speaking through her nephew. 

Empower celebrates strong women and strong men.  Empower celebrates being strong at every age.  Empower celebrates playing and chasing our passions from birth to death.  Empower celebrates the selfless generosity of spirit that always endeavours to lift others up.  And in these ways Empower celebrates my aunt and everything she means to me.  And now, hopefully to you too.  Because even though you’ve never met her, you know her through the community spirit that is Empower.

Sharing your way through the WOD:

1) If there are not enough rowers available, you may substitute 6 minutes on an airbike if.  Alternatively, we can stagger the start with members of the class with the best double unders going in the second group as soon as rowers are available.

2) We will give you until the 15 minute mark of the workout to accumulate as many double unders or double under attempts as you can before sending you out for your run.

3) The running route follows our 1 mile route and turns right on 8th heading uphill toward West Point Grey Academy.  When you reach the first driveway entrance to West Point Grey Academy, turn right toward the parking lot.  Follow the drive until you touch the post under the sign that reads: W.P.G.A. Pool & Gym, then turn around and head back. 

If you cannot run, your alternatives include:

15 minutes on the ski erg or airbike (unless you used these already in part one) or 15 mins loaded carry with a weight vest and one 35/50# dumbbell held anyway.

Warm Up

2 mins Skipping 2 min alt KB TGU

WOD: Half Triple Three
1500m Row
150 DU
1.5 Mile Run